Not Yet Suffragette is a feminist theatre piece, it is a one woman show about how not far we have come since the suffragette movement 100 years ago.
I sat down with Natalie Cutler, an actor, feminist, writer and all-round incredible woman. After finishing drama school at 18, Natalie used her inquisitive nature to mould a career for herself. “I travelled a lot,” says Natalie. “Working with different agencies that took me overseas, and whilst I was overseas I got to experience more of a worldly view. It was so fascinating to me, that what we think is world news here in the UK, people haven’t heard about in another part of the world.
It made me realise how unimportant what is going on where you are is, that was the first thing that triggered my interest, and so I started to look into what else was out there, that I wasn’t aware of in the UK.” This triggered Natalie’s interest in culture spurring more travel and more experience, which led to her next project.
“I started to explore what it means to be a woman in different countries, what was really interesting was when I lived in countries where women are still considered less than second-rate citizens, I spent a lot of time in India to see how different a woman’s life is there. So I started doing a lot of research and experiencing things for myself.”
After reviewing at the Fringe last summer, it became evident to me that feminist theatre was on the rise. Particularly in regards to topical issues, the conversation about sexism and feminism has risen. Individuals such as Donald Trump, openly and outwardly being sexist, has made many people realise the extremity of the issues.
This is something that Natalie does in her one-woman play, through a mixture of history, comedy and narrative, she tells the story of feminism with an emphasis on how far we still have to go. “I am aware that feminist theatre is becoming a thing, but I am also aware that it has always been a thing,” she says. “You can go back through the decades of theatre, we keep getting different waves of feminism. I think theatre and art will always be those things that reflect that, people always move where artists create.”
Natalie wants to create a piece of theatre that encompasses everyone, so both men and women see the show, and they either relate, or they realise. “Lots of sexism I encountered didn’t make it into the show,” explains Natalie. “I kind of didn’t want it to be personal and about me, I wanted them to realise the everyday issues that are out there.”
Topically, Natalie was faced with sexism at work, she was forced to wear heels and when her feet were blistered and bruised, she told her boss she couldn’t wear them anymore and instantly got the sack. “It wasn’t the end of the world, and was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time, but what annoys me more than that, is that I was working with other women who were also in pain and didn’t want to wear the shoes, but they were,” explains Natalie.
“What bothered me was that there were women with the same issue as me but they weren’t voicing it. So because I looked like a minority, I was sent home. If all the women spoke up, they wouldn’t have sacked us all and we would have made a change. This is something that affects me in everything about life, it isn’t just feminism. They can’t sack everyone, they can’t imprison everyone and they can’t kill everyone. So if everyone just banded together, those kind of things wouldn’t be able to happen.”
Natalie describes her show as light-hearted, and she touches on alternative perspectives, not just a feminist’s view – which opens up the eyes of the audience. Natalie was keen to write a show about feminism, and enrolled in a stand-up comedy course. During the course, her teacher told her the best thing to do is to book a deadline, and then you are forced to create something. Whilst her teacher most likely meant a local gig, Natalie booked the Brighton Fringe, and had four months to create 55 more minutes of her one-woman play.
“I started with the stuff that is of my own opinion, so as a modern woman who maybe isn’t interested in marriage and family the way most women are, I always used to have to come up with reasons why I didn’t want those things, because even in today’s society, it isn’t always acceptable to not want marriage and children. I kept coming up with these little jokes and sketches that I would have to say to people in real life just to get them to understand where I was coming from, and they were quite entertained by it,” Natalie laughs. She then went on to research into women’s history, and pulled key moments out to use in her performance.
“I touch on the first woman to fight in WW1, her name is Flora Sands. People don’t know her story, so I tell WW1 from her perspective,” explain Natalie. She also includes people like Bella Raey, a professional footballer in World War 1. Women like Bella played football to raise money to fund the war, so it was a big contributor towards winning the war. “Bella was a big female football star in those years, she played for England, she was one of the best strikers in the country and when the war finished and all the men came home, the FA banned women from playing football,” Natalie says.
After receiving fantastic reviews at the Brighton fringe, Natalie has worked with Chris Lawson, associate director at the Oldham Coliseum to shape the piece and give it more direction, and she now embarks on a UK tour.
Aside from being an actor, Natalie has done a lot of other work. She is a strong writer, and hopes to open her play very soon. As someone who has fallen in love with acting, she is still disheartened about the lack of strong female roles in both theatre and television. “People write about what they know,” she says. “If the majority of people in the industry are men, they are going to write about what they know and they don’t know about women. There needs to be more opportunity for women writers to write about that kind of stuff.
A story starts with the writer, a lot of people blame the director, but even directors don’t have a job until the writer has written them something for them to direct. The majority of writers are men so that is why I started writing.”
Natalie’s next project is to put on a play she has written about the 17 women who are currently in prison in El Salvador for having a miscarriage. She explains: “In El Salvador, abortion is illegal under all circumstances, rape, incest, you’re still not allowed, even if your life is in danger and you’re going to die. Women who miscarry, the government see it is murder – it is your fault, you killed your child. So they sentence them is the to life sentences the same as a murderer. So my play is the story of them.”
“I just love being a woman,” Natalie expresses, and this is evident in her immense research and work in women’s issues. She has currently just finished filming a documentary that will premiere next month. “I decided I wanted to create a platform that is educational about the things I’ve learnt that I want other people to learn. I just wanted to combine being a woman with my art, my craft and my acting. So I set up my own production company to create my own work for theatre, TV and film based on the things I’ve learnt about the world.”
Her film is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Miss Universe and Miss Great Britain competitions. “People are really fascinated about my documentary because I am a feminist, and I did it for that reason. People are so quick to stereotype these girls and make them out to be air heads, but they are some of the strongest women – they are the next leaders of tomorrow.
In the final part of the documentary, we travel to India to meet with acid attack survivors because Miss Universe and Miss GB are partnered with stop acid attacks. So all these women raise money for the women out in India that run this café called Sheroes. It is a cafe that is run by the acid attack survivors, to highlight the issue of acid attacks in India. Most of these women have been attacked because they were beautiful. They’d been proposed to, said no, and then got attacked because the men think ‘if I can’t have you, no one can have you,’ so they become disfigured. It is such an interesting parallel to do a film about a beauty competition that then cuts to women that have been subjected to violence because they were beautiful.”
“It is just a different way of looking at it, the story is about beauty pageants, but the narrative is how we view women in today’s society and how we stereotype beautiful women, and think that is all they’re good for.”
Natalie is the perfect example of a modern woman who directs her own life. She has been self-employed since she was 18, “I had to learn it all myself,” says Natalie. “In school you’re taught that you graduate, you have a 9-5 job, you save for a pension, and then you retire.” She felt that she wasn’t given the right opportunities and options whilst at school, and preaches how important these things are – especially in today’s world.
It was inspiring chatting to Natalie, hearing her thoughts, passions and ideas. Whilst Natalie continues to create and innovate, on many different platforms, I’d recommend you go and catch her one-woman show Not Yet Suffragette, because I see a very bright future for this star.
Not Yet Suffragette
Oldham Coliseum – 18th of March
Mac, Birmingham – 30th of March